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Friday, November 25, 2005

A whole new ballgame?

The debate over whether Portland should have major league baseball is heating up again, with news that the owners of the Florida Marlins team (halfway decent, National League East) are saying that they would like a new home.

When last we left this saga, the State of Oregon had enacted a financing package whereby the state would put up around $115 million, paid for out of income taxes on the players' salaries, toward a new public stadium in Portland. About another $235 million would be needed, and the city and local baseball fans have roughed out a financing plan that would come up with the rest out of a 10 percent ticket tax, special licensing fees on businesses within the stadium district, a tax on stadium concessions, a reallocation of the some of the local hotel tax, rent paid by the team on the stadium, and some assorted additional odds and ends.

The state part is a done deal, having been adopted by the Legislature in 2003. The city part is so far just a brochure with some smart, energetic, and influential supporters. City Commissioner Randy Leonard's loosely on board with the baseball types, although he's still holding out to put the stadium out along I-205, which seems unlikely. Mayor Tom Potter has sent out some decidedly negative signals on the whole idea, and the other three commissioners are anybody's guess, with two of them up for re-election and the third trying to distance himself from his former boss, ex-Mayor Vera Katz, who was enchanted with the major league baseball idea.

Everybody's got an opinion on this, of course. I personally think it would be a great addition to the city, well worth the public investment.

Certainly a better investment than a convention center hotel that will be mostly empty, most of the time.

Certainly a better investment than a traffic-worsening light rail line running from Union Station to PSU, a route which already has the most extensive bus connections imaginable.

Certainly a better investment than a streetcar down lower MLK Boulevard.

Certainly better than a re-do of a transit mall that would get along fine with some new bricks and some spit polish on the existing bus kiosks.

Certainly better than a condo-and-chi-chi-public-market complex that will wreck the Saturday Market.

Certainly better than spending tens of millions to turn West Burnside into a one-way street.

Certainly better than spending $1 million or more a year to pay for TV ads for politicians' campaigns.

Certainly better than paying $3.3 million an acre for contaminated industrial land, so that it can be a park for million-dollar-condo dwellers in the SoWhat district.

And of course, certainly better than paying to build and operate (and constantly worrying about) an aerial tram [rim shot] to some rich doctors' private offices and the latest Homer Williams apartment ghetto.

Comments (47)

"The state part is a done deal"

I do like modern factionalization. I too wish to dedicate all my taxes (income, property, and fees, and revenue from collectively owned enterprises) to the pet project of my choosing.

Like Mr. Baseball, everyone, consistent with the equal privileges and immunities clause, must have a line item on the tax form designating the segment of the budget it is to cover, inclusive of debt on ones very own business and perhaps even their very own home loan.

Anyway, the legislature does not have the authority to rewrite the appropriations provisions in the state constitution, but hey, that may just get in the way of the great American pasttme.


I'll settle for a season ticket for each year that the bond remains unpaid on similar terms to that of a Multnomah County library card. (Class action for all Portland residents?)

Growing up going to Yankee Stadium, in the era of Mantle and Maris (I wore #9 in Little League), I miss major league baseball and would love to see it in Portland. But I wonder if the almost 28,000 per game attendance suggested in the report isn't just a wee bit optimistic. (Though I'll cop to not having read the whole report.)

It would be cool to have a major city initiative that the community was solidly behind, and that actually contributed to broad economic development, or re-development of a blighted or neglected area.

I went a touch over my 150 word limit and ended up posting my thoughts on my own blog. Bottom line, the city and state need to take a look at their numbers again. $350 million for the stadium sounds an awful lot like $15 million for a tram. A ridiculously low number meant to win the bid knowing that no one in charge actually expects them to hold to it.

It would be cool to have a major city initiative that the community was solidly behind, and that actually contributed to broad economic development, or re-development of a blighted or neglected area.

That can't happen now. We've shot our wad on condo jungles. Thanks, Vera and Sam.

This was an ill-conceived idea when the ballpark folks were trying to get the Expos to move here and it is an ill-conceived idea now.

Besides the rosy outlook of 28,000 fans per game (which might happen for the first three months or so), consider that Portland would be a mid- to small-market team in the grand scheme of things. Which means you're looking at, say, a Pittsburgh or Milwaukee type of situation, where the team is pretty much out of the playoffs five minutes after spring training opens and is always dumping young, rising stars the minute they're good enough to command big-money contracts -- either via free agency or by trading to a contender for "prospects," which then starts the whole cycle anew.

Also remember that the "gut and stuff" legislative financing package only covers the first $150 million of the ballpark and that Safeco Field in Seattle ultimately topped a half-billion. Where is the rest of the money supposed to come from? Put your hand on your wallet and you'll have the right answer.

They say they're going to finance it with state income taxes paid by the ballplayers themselves. But Jack, you're a tax expert, how much money do members of the Blazers pay annually in state income tax? That could be illuminating.

I could go on and on, but I encourage anyone interested in this issue to check out the following books:

"Field of Schemes : How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit"


"Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums"

Both are available on Amazon.com. The point of both is simple and straightforward: Sports facilities and the teams that play in them do not enhance local economies, do little for job creation, and never make up for the cost of higher taxes.

I sympathize with Ron's frustration with the state's financing plan ("I too wish to dedicate all my taxes . . . to the pet project of my choosing"), but let's remember one thing: Those major league ballplayer's won't be paying ANY taxes in Oregon if Portland doesn't get a team.

Once they're here and the ballpark is paid for, their taxes are fair game like everyone else's (incuding the Trailblazers). And I know there are plenty of studies saying that sports teams never pay their communities back for all the infrastructure investment.

Still, if we get to vote, I'll vote for major league baseball in Oregon.

I grew up across the street from a little league park and played baseball almost every day from March through October. I can name every player on the '59
White Sox and Dodgers (the World Series teams). I can make a great argument as to why Donatrelle Willis (who may still be with the Marlins) should have won the Cy Young Award over Chris Carpenter.

Nevertheless, I think bringing a baseball team to Portland under the current scheme is pure folly.

If the public is going to spend that much money, it should own the team--or at least there should be a public ownership structure similar to the Green Bay Packers. The rules of major league baseball prohibit this kind of ownership. I believe Earl Blumenauer introduced legislation in Congress a couple of times to correct this, but the bill went nowhere.

Major league baseball owners are the lamest pack of jackels this side of the White House (and, of course, there is plenty of inter-breeding with the current administration). I can see no reason why the citizens of Portland and Oregon should pony up a ton of money to these greedhead billionnaires.

By the way, Jack, some of those things that you are so certain are a worse expenditure of public money--well, the amount of money isn't the same and at least a few of them are really pretty good ideas.

No, not the tram. OHSU gives us a glimpse of what dealing with a major league baseball team is like.

That can't happen now. We've shot our wad on condo jungles.

So you wait a while. Not too long.

You can't give up. You continue to argue for good decisions. New decisions are made every day...nothings in concrete, except maybe concrete.

An honest analysis of whether major league baseball would be good or bad here, at what cost, to who...

What a concept.

Except for the small fact that subsidizing your stupid little game/midlife-reversion-to-boyhood fantasy would cost more than all of the things you list COMBINED.

your stupid little game/midlife-reversion-to-boyhood fantasy

Bye bye.

you're a tax expert, how much money do members of the Blazers pay annually in state income tax?

A bundle -- if they live in Oregon, 9% of what they make anywhere in the world. If they live outside of Oregon, 9% of what they make on home games in Portland (half the schedule). And don't forget all the visiting teams, whom Oregon could tax (and I assume does) on the portion of their salaries that they earn on the games they play in Portland.

Plus the coaches, plus the refs -- there's no question, it's a lot of money. Money you'll never see if we don't build it, of course.

Where is all this professed frugality on the rest of "urban renewal" as practiced in Portland? Hate the baseball idea if you want, but don't sit home quietly when they're selling the next junk project like a new transit mall with light rail to nowhere, the convention center hotel, or SoWhat.

I have to say I'm conflicted about this. The last time we were up against another city for a major league team, we were treated like we were a joke. I was also involved in the movement to bring baseball here.

While major pieces of the puzzle are still in place, which helps the question is: Will major league baseball even take Portland seriously?

We are just some hick west coast town to those idiots that run the MLB.

So I sit here and read the great Jack Bog and I fail to understand the logic of this post.

You seem to state that Baseball is what we need for this city, yet as someone from the less accepted part of Multnomah county, I couldn't agree less.

If we need a professional team, support lacrosse, support hockey (NHL), support arena football again. Don't support baseball.

Everyone who is supporting baseball isn't thinking about the economic impact of a bill thats 2 years old now. Add about 20% to that original estimate. Florida's team will demand that a stadium be built immediately to compete with higher capacity parks, don't rely on PGE Park to be your temporary stadium.

We invested millions in that stadium, and I still feel the city can recoup some of that money with the new management in place for the beavs and the timbers.

Hockey has an arena, has someone to maybe purchase the rose garden and someone who might give a damn about the old glass palace.

Be realistic, get at least some economic boost by bringing the NHL here and quit the pipe dream.

How does the tax a referee system work? If the referees association is based in Boston lets say, wouldn't that be considered traveling work and not a taxable income by Oregon? Are we taxing any employee who travels through our state because of a business dinner for that 8 hours of work at Starbucks or in a hotel?

Baseball is better than a lot of what you are asking people not to support, but its much more expensive than anything on your list and has a lot of risk. Then again, what am I asking for, Portland loves risk without reward.

This is hilarious. I guess everybody has their favorite boondoggle.

""""An honest analysis """"
By whom?

We can't even get a full accounting of the short and long term cost and effects of now having 12,000 city acres in the Urban Renewal property tax skimming game.

I have yet to see any municipality come clean on any urban renewal district "investment".

The long term commitments to fund, pay back, build and maintain boondoggles are stacking up at an alarming pace with no agency providing any responsible oversight or collective report of any kind.

Every one of the boondoggles whether it be the CC hotel or Tram has the bureacrat/planners engine driving it forward. What little relative resistance they encounter is easily rolled over with barely a hiccup.

Major league baseball?

Only after many more events such as the Alexan tax abatement rejection.
Which is resurfacing by the way. Look for that new vote and if it passes this time forget everything. It's hopeless around here.

Stop the abatement program, kill the Tram, stop the CC hotel, kill the Transit mall, halt light rail expansion, reign in Urban renewal abuse, get rid of those who voted for the Alexan tax abatement (sorry Potter and Sten) and Baseball might have a chance.

Jack, I hesitate to quibble with a tax professor, but are you sure that professional athletes get taxed where the games are played? After all, it seems to me that the Trailblazers are Oregon employees for all of their salary and that player's from other teams are employees of the state where their teams are located.

NBA players don't get paid per game. In fact, if someone is injured and can't make the trip to play, say, the Knicks in New York or the Lakers in Los Angeles, they still get paid.

By comparison, someone who works at Nike in Beaverton (excuse me, just outside Beaverton in unincorporated Washington county), they don't get taxed in Georgia if they go to a meeting in Atlanta.

Your dictionary must have a very strange definition for "public investment".

Perhaps you could provide a explanation how an expenditure of public funds, for the direct benefit of a private industry exempt from anti-trust laws and that is concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals qualifies as a good "public investment". Indeed, the benefit profile is very comparable to the tram and other projects you seem to despise. (And which I agree to a large extent have been wrong-headed expenditures as actually implemented. But in this arena, no number of wrongs added together make a right.)

Similarly, what are the actual facts as to the potential benefit to the hospitality industry? The benefits there also go largely into the pockets of large corporations and small businesses who consistently work politically for anti-labor legislation. (And what is the likelihood a city with a control-fetish like Portland is going to allow the colorful non-vendor ecosystem around a stadium that people remember from times past --- take a close look at the physical and city legal environment around the Mariner's stadium in Seattle if you disagree.)

Finally, why would anyone assume the team members would live in Portland or Oregon rather than a state without income taxes? And what is the evidence that the proposed plan to tax 9% of earnings here would withstand legal challenge or sharp tax advisors?

To be an investment, the City would need to own the team. And the private baseball owners have put in place rules that a team can't be publicly owned.

(P.S. On the Northwest Radio News 11/25 one of the proponents offered the argument that Portland should be good site because the Portland TV market was in the top 10 for World Series TV viewership. Since the TV viewership of post-season baseball has been declining for several years, what does being in the top 10 of a declining audience prove?)

someone who works at Nike in Beaverton (excuse me, just outside Beaverton in unincorporated Washington county), they don't get taxed in Georgia if they go to a meeting in Atlanta.

They would if Georgia enforced its tax laws against them. Unfortunately for the jocks, their schedule is better known than that of someone from Nike. And there are more bucks at stake.

Oregon would give the jocks credit for any income tax they paid in their home state on the money they made in Oregon. But (a) if they lived in a state that had no income tax, they'd get no credit, and (b) if they lived in a state that had a lower income tax than Oregon (the typical case), Oregon would keep the difference.

First- I like baseball. I'd go out to games. I try to schedule depositions on my Seattle cases so I can catch a Mariners home game once in awhile. I am hoping that a baseball deal doesn't turn out to be another way for a few folks to get rich and the city to get saddled with debt. I'd like to see an analysis of how other cities have done financially with either recruiting teams and/or building stadiums. Seems like once you build a stadium, the team owner has you by the balls. I'd like to see a very long term commitment by the team owner if we are building a baseball-only park.

Second- Public Financed Elections imo is the best return on investment on your list. So far, the only opposition I have seen to public financed elections is from wealthy campaign donors, including developers used to buying influence, a couple eager Stoel Reeves lawyers, and you and Dwight Jaynes. I am not holding my breath for any of the former to come around, but you and Jaynes I would hope would see the benefit of minimizing the wink-and-nod that comes with big checks to politicians from developers. Your argument sounds like you would rather do away with publicly funded broadcasting because it would be fine to let Kelloggs and Nabisco pay for your childrens TV programming. Oh, but maybe Kellogs and Nabisco would want something in return like sugar ceral and sugar snack friendly content, product placement, etc.

A fast, frequent train to Seattle would do the trick and have other uses. (We could even dispense with our airport.)

"Stop the abatement program, kill the Tram, stop the CC hotel, kill the Transit mall, halt light rail expansion, reign in Urban renewal abuse" etc.

I couldn't have said it better myself, Steve. Portland has a very long history of getting screwed in these types of deals. Let us not forget the Paul Allen/Rose garden fiasco. I don't know how much of a bite Portland taxpayers took on that, but I'm sure glad I don't have retirement money tied up in a fund that bought into that scene. I don't believe Portlanders can or will support a major sports team. And there are far more important places to use that money.

P.S. Nice work, Jack! Your list and mine are just about identical.

I just don't think Portland is a major league town. We can barely draw 1000 to a beautiful triple A stadium in downtown. My previous city of 80,000 (Durham NC) drew 10,000 routinely.

The weather in the Spring and even early summer is terrible. There are too many other recreation options. We don't have a longstanding history of baseball.

I love MLB but I just don't see it working in Portland.

Mionr league and major league are two very, very different things.

There are fewer rainy days during baseball season in Portland than there are in many current major league cities.

Your comment about SoWhats park land costing $3.3M is off. The existing Public Storage block cost PDC $7.1M. PDC waited a couple of years to buy the block so that the price would go up, even though it was designated as a park over two years ago. PDC had to keep the money flowing for the tram, trolly, etc. for North Macadam. and let the park land costs exceed even the areas land inflation market. Thats planning. By the way, CTLH neighborhood assn. wasn't real pleased naming North Macadam as South Waterfront district (SoWa). It seems so trite and non-descriptive, plus we already have a South Waterfront-the Trammel/Crow project. Macadam is a long time Portland historical name given to the road leading from Portland to Oswego. I believe the "macadamizing" of the old wood cord road to the Sellwood ferry and beyond (macadam is the process of making a road bed out of oil and rock mixture) should be retained for this renewal area. Thus, North Macadam could be reduced to "NoMo" which our planners seem to like to do.

I have to agree with the anti-MLB posters. Not only is the public funding of private sports teams merely more corporate welfare, but baseball is a dying sport.

A pretty telling article here:


Spending any public funds on a baseball stadium would be a bad investment.

We should concentrate on attracting an NFL team here: Portland is much more of a football town. And hockey would be the best second choice.

You guys who make an avocation out of railing against government subsidy, with few exceptions, just shot your wad.

Who can take you seriously, now that you've revealed your desire for a $350 million+ subsidy of baseball? What makes baseball better than light rail, other than your personal preference for one and inexplicable antipathy toward the other?

As much as I would LOVE to see a Major League Baseball team in Portland, I don't see it happening for two reasons you don't address:

1. Major League owners get the say on where teams are located due to expansion or relocation. The whole point of bringing the Triple-A team to Portland was to prove that we had the population base to support a large baseball team. And not to say that there weren't problems with the way things got started with PFE, but look at the status of things now, and I don't think the owners will give Portland the nod.

2. The lifeblood of a baseball team making it is the ability to sell sponsorships, suites and season tickets to local businesses to support their operations. Portland does not have enough businesses large enough and willing enough to pay to sponsor a team.

Anytime someone pitches a "public-private partnership," count your fingers after shaking hands. Actually, just run away really fast.

Portland is the sucker bait in the MLB pond.

Jack Roberts.... Jack Bog is exactly right on the tax issue. (No surprise there.) And not only is he right on the law, but it's actually true that the states enforce the jock tax.

For a great summary of the history and law, read this piece: Could you be hit by the 'jock tax'?

And then google the phrase "jock tax" for more.

p.s. Jack Roberts.... For more info, you might also check with whomever was the state Labor Commissioner back in the late 1990s.

Knowing the NW, Paul Allen will probably try to purchase the team, and then run it into the ground so badly that it will only get 1/4 of the forecasted attendance.

Then he'll sue for bankruptcy, and the rest is old news.

I support bringing MLB to Portland, and most of the comments in this thread against bringing MLB to PDX are rather ill-informed.

That said: I also agree with Chris S. Let's find out exactly how much this stadium is going to cost, and then go from there. Don't stick with the $350 million dollar number and then watch in awe as that number goes up to $500 million.

(DC thought building a stadium for the Expos would cost $535 million. However, now that number has climbed to $700 million, and neither DC nor MLB wants to pay the difference.)

If it makes fiscal sense to build a stadium (I think it does) then let's do it. But let's be completely honest about the numbers.

""""""If it makes fiscal sense to build a stadium (I think it does) then let's do it. But let's be completely honest about the numbers. """""""

Oh Brother. You should run for city council.

Then you could propose putting the PDC in charge of "honest" numbers and bringing baseball here.

Sort of like the honest numbers they came up with for the Alexan Tax abatement?????

If you have already concluded "it makes fiscal sense" perhaps you could just share the basis for your conclusion and save us all some time.

Justin at 2 a.m. 11/28 said:
I support bringing MLB to Portland, and most of the comments in this thread against bringing MLB to PDX are rather ill-informed.

Which comments? How are they ill-informed? If one feels qualified to make such a comment, one must have the "correct" information at hand.

So speak up, Justin! You seem glib enough. We await eagerly the opportunity to bask in the glow of your superior wisdom.

If the true cost of doing this really is in the $500 million to $700 million range, I'd want the team to pick up whatever it cost beyond $350 million.

Two arguments on why not move a Major League baseball team to Portland:

1. Television market. Right now, Seattle has a decent chance at being succesful over the long term because they have a monopoly over a mid to larger sized television market. If you split that market with Portland, the Mariners would be left with a much smaller tv market, lessening their revenues drastically, and putting both the Mariners and the Portland MLB team in Milwaukee land.

2. No one seems to want to argue for a Mexican based MLB team. There have been two teams founded in Canada, and there have been some MLB road games played in Latin America. From a strickly economic point of view, putting a team in say Monterrey, Mexico makes sense. Three million people, highest quality of life of any major Mexican City, and close to other MLB markets.

I think the last comment nails it.

The Mariners have become essentially a big market team because of their very nice deal with FSN. A team in PDX basically creates two small-mid market sized TV markets (I would think the FSN deal would break like 60-40 for the Ms)

There are much better markets for MLB to choose, if Vegas is out, North Carolina brings in a huge regional market that is currently served only by the Braves.

I would agree with somewhere in the South would be better than Portland, but the South isn't much for baseball. Mexico and broader Latin America, now there's a goldmine.

The public costs of stadiums is always higher than advertised because it doesn't include the inevitable public land giveaway, foregone property taxes, infrastructure costs, and so on. For sports stadiums, that number is about 40%. (Google "Judith Grant Long" and look up her new book for refs.)

Public cost estimates for sports stadiums are getting more divorced from reality, not more accurate, as the development deals get more arcane and clever at hiding subsidies.

Sounds like a lot of people have problems with "mega-projects" in general, not just sports stadiums. Here's a short article that helps understand how they work:


"""""more divorced from reality, not more accurate, as the development deals get more arcane and clever at hiding subsidies."""""

Arcane and clever?

I think they're called "public-private partnerships".

The Tram cost began at $8.5 million (URAC)
$45 million is not the current "True Cost".
The contingency costs have been removed in that amount.
In this type of project contigency should be in the 15% range
Making the current cost projection at least $51.75 million.
Other costs not currenlty included in the $45 million are
land costs, financing costs, depreciation costs, operating costs and the maintance costs.
A 20 year life cycle cost would be in excess of $200 Million. IMO

Kari, thanks for the link. It seems like something of a zero-sum-game, since one state's tax gain is another state's tax loss (although the differential in tax rates plays a part, and a few states don't have an income tax), but I understand that no state can afford to unilaterally disarm in the war for revenue.

By the way, the labor commissioner is only concerned that workers get paid, not that they pay their taxes (or to whome they pay it).

"Let's find out exactly how much this stadium is going to cost, and then go from there."

Justin- can you really be so naive? Every single project is presented to the taxpayers with a so-called "true cost" yet somehow every one of those projects go far over budget. Who picks up the slack? We do. We get taken coming and going.

I once saw a bumper sticker that read "I can't possibly be overdrawn, I still have checks left". Eerily reminescent of the way the PDC and their pals so recklessy approach their urban renewal projects, i.e. "Who cares what it costs? Who cares how the cost differences will be paid back?"

Portland will never get away from these scenarios until we do away with the city council system and have representatives elected from districts.

I love baseball, but if Portland is going to invest any public money in a stadium, a 20,000-seat park for a Major League Soccer team would be a better bet. It would be far cheaper. It would immediately set us apart from Seattle instead of putting us in head-to-head competition from the Mariners (and would, in fact, draw people from Seattle to Portland). MLS's future demographics are far better than baseball's. And while there wouldn't be nearly as many game nights as a baseball park would generate, there would also be less risk attached, since crowds in the 15,000-17,000 range would be perfectly acceptable.


MLB is bad news. Any additional professional sports teams are bad news.

Everybody here is focusing on "getting them here" and I haven't heard much about "keeping them here". If we get a team, where will it come from? Some other city, right? So... What happened there? Why can't whatever happened there happen here?

I can see this area getting boondoogled into subsidizing a majorly millions of dollar stadium only to have it abandoned after three to five years, because the turnout was insufficient for the bottom line. Then, we place ourselves in the position of being extorted by the team owners...for bigger and better amenities, or another entire stadium with more acres of parking...or they take their team to some other city.

One major league professional athletic team is too much as it is. We don't need another.

Besides, baseball is boring and I, and many, many other Oregonians are going to be out enjoying the great outdoors, rather than sitting in some stupid stadium watching full-grown men play children's games.

Shazam, Kelly—you must be fun at parties.

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